National Policy for Protecting Environment


M. R. Rousseau points to the significance of strong political will to save the environment from further degradation
The conscious sec­tion of people as well as various non-government organi­sations (NGOs) that work for protecting the environment in this country have long since been speaking out for well-planned, sustainable steps for protecting the environment.
They have time and again pointed to the various UN conven­tions and resolutions made at various international seminars and symposia, including the conven­tion of Rio de Janeiro in the year 1992, to all of which Bangladesh happens to be signatory, and made repeated appeals to the government to implement them. Not that these appeals have been heeded to with any remarkable seriousness.
Neither the government, nor the two major political parties in the country who have formed govern­ments more than once since the emergence of independent Bangla­desh has made definite pledges to the people about implementing these pledges within a given timeframe. The NGOs, including the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh (FEJB), had been working as a conscience-keeper of the government agencies in this regard. They have been repeatedly pointing out where things were going out of hand and where time was running out.
Successive governments have agreed to the necessity of protect­ing the environment of Bangladesh and the urgency of those needs-especially in view of the fact large scale industrialisation has not taken place here as yet and that there was still time to act. Various UN agencies that have representa­tive offices here at Dhaka have indefatigably been keeping the national press updated about the environmental issues and the press has always taken the cue for doing its professional duty.
Taking part at a national consul­tation in the metropolis last Monday, government officials, donor representatives, experts and media representatives agreed on the need for continued interactions among themselves for carrying out the programmes for sustainable development in line with the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil.
The national consultation was organised to review preparations for the upcoming Rio plus 10 summit to be held in South Africa next year-as a follow-up of the Rio Summit. All this is very good and encouraging stuff. But participants at various seminars, symposia, workshops and consul­tations do not appear to agree about the priority of the works that need to be followed in this country. To some it is the air pollution that needs to be attended to first, while to others it is the arsenic contami­nation of ground water that should get the topmost priority. Priority is of utmost importance in a country handicapped by limitation of resources.
The participants at the consulta­tion were of the opinion that the government ought to take the lead role in implementing the Agenda 21-the Agenda for 21st Century in all spheres. They underlined the need for taking stock of the work done in the last ten years since the Rio summit and need for preparing for the Rio 10 plus summit to ‘highlight our concerns’. Accord­ing to some participants at the consultation, Bangladesh should highlight its magnitude of natural disasters along with the progress it has already made in the environ­mental sector, including the landmark national Environmental Management Plan (NEMAP). This again is very good, as far as making plans go. But then, there would always be critics to ask the pertinent question how far have we gone in matters of implementing the plans.
The global scenario has under­gone significant changes, partici­pants rightly pointed out, since 1992, and that the changes have been marked by the emergence of a civil society or private sectors that has made the United Nations (UN) to do everything to protect its credibility with endorsements of the global community rather than of the governments alone.
It was during this period of time that the world had experienced sever food scarcity, worst envi­ronmental degradation and massive corruption alongside the increased yields and knowledge about environmental issues as well as increased awareness of the people. Well that was about all in connection with Bangladesh’s initial preparations for the upcom­ing Rio 10 Plus summit.
Meantime, recent seminars and discussion meets arranged by other fora have called for a ‘firm politi­cal commitment’ to combat the massive environmental degrada­tion in Bangladesh. Participants at these discussion meetings regretted that the political parties had so far never incorporated environmental issues in their political agenda. This smacked of their lack of farsightedness-as a result of which it will be difficult to check environmental degradation in the days to come.
In many such discussion ses­sions over the last couple of months or so speakers and participants pointed to the urgent need of effectively combating the arsenic contamination of ground water over the large part of Bangladesh. This calls for a comprehensive and accurate study of the problem and a specific timeframe for facing up to the challenge. If a delegation must go to the Rio 10 plus summit, it should go there well prepared and with a precise brief of the devastat­ing magnitude of the problem that was staring Bangladesh and parts of the Indian state of West Bengal in the face. The FEJB men re­frained from speaking out in this regard at their consultation for reasons best known to them.
The more ardent advocates of a wholesome environment for Bangladesh have been crying horse about the necessity of creating the right kind of mass awareness in Bangladesh with a view to build­ing up a ‘people’s resistance’ nec­essary to fight environmental deg­radation. All that is easier said than done-the more conscious section of the people observe. Other environmentalists think it is more important to prepare a database of the more than 6,000 species of plants in the country-for they stood threatened by a sordid process of extinction due to their mindless destruction by man. Meantime, the diversity of micro­organisms also stands threatened by the almost regular annual floods in this deltaic plain. No less important is the problem of waste-management-that, unless taken care of at an early stage, could attain an unmanageable magnitude.
Well, one could go on making an almost endless list of works to be done pertaining to protection of environment. What we need is a specific national policy with a list of priorities to get down to the brass tacks.

Source: The Financial Express, 4 October, 2001